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Gino Narboni, Machal Pilot, Dies at 92

Gino Narboni

We remember Roger Nathan "Gino" Narboni, a pilot who served three nations, including Israel in 1948, and died on July 16th, 2016. He was born in Constantine, Algeria, the son of a prominent physician. As a teenager with a thirst for action, he enlisted in the Free French Air Force and a few years later became a MACHAL. He received word of the newly created state of Israel's need for pilots and voluntered because he "felt strongly about our Jewish heritage." After emigrating to the United States, he served as a surgeon in the U.S. Air Force and retired with the rank of Colonel.

Narboni Obituary, from Peter Loring Mortuaries

Image from Peter Loring Mortuaries


Below is Col. Narboni's obituary in the Jerusalem Post.


“Gino” Narboni, Machal 1948 pilot, dies aged 92:


Roger Nathan « Gino » Narboni, one of the legendary Machal (foreign volunteer) pilots who helped turn the tide in Israel’s 1948-1949 War of Independence, died at his home near San Antonio, Texas, on July 16, his family said. He was 92.

Born in the now-extinct Jewish community of then-French Algeria on November 18, 1923, Narboni was later one of the first pilots of Israel’s El Al and Arkia airlines.

His remarkable career also included flying for the Free French Air Force during World War Two, and a 25-year-career as a chief flight surgeon with the United States Air Force which he left in 1981 with the rank of full colonel.

Narboni, the son of a prominent physician in the eastern Algerian city of Constantine, had planned on medical studies, but wars long kept getting in the way.

He joined General Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Air Force in May 1943 and was sent to the United States for flight training late the following year, qualifying as a pilot on B-26 twin-engine bombers.

But, by the time he got back to Europe in mid-1945, the war was over and he began his medical studies in Paris.

In 1948, he was contacted there by the pre-state Haganah Jewish underground recruiting Jewish pilots with experience in Allied armies to help the incipient state of Israel which did not then have a single combat aircraft and only a handful of pilots.

Narboni was asked to fly a single-engine Norseman aircraft secretly from Paris to Israel because of an international arms embargo imposed on belligerent Middle East states but which only affected Israel since Arab armies already had standing air forces.

“Why did I come to Israel in 1948? I was not brought up in a religious atmosphere, but my family and I felt strongly about our Jewish heritage,” he told the Jerusalem Report newsmagazine in July 2014. “We believed in the case of the Jews. I had a skill that Israel could use, so I decided to use it. Today, I am still attached to Israel which has an importance in my life and in that of my wife.” He then spoke on return from a visit to Israel where he was officially received at Tel Nof air force base from where he flew in 1948-1949.

Narboni was one of some 4,000 volunteers who came to Israel in the framework of the Mitnadveï Hutz l’Aretz (Volunteers from Abroad, or MAHAL, programme) from the United States, Canada, South Africa, Britain, France, Scandinavia and 20 other countries. They were joined by a couple of hundred non-Jewish volunteers.

The role of the Mahal volunteers was especially crucial in the Israel Air Force where they made up the near-totality of flying personnel during the War of Independence.

After his ferrying flights to Israel, Narboni served as a transport pilot, flying supplies and evacuating wounded soldiers. “In those days there were few formalities. I don’t remember signing any papers or being sworn in, but I was given a commission and reported to duty as Captain Narboni.

After his stint as a civilian airline pilot in Israel, Narboni was drawn back to his first love, medicine, and returned to Paris to complete his medical studies.

When he graduated, he found post-war Europe too drab and emigrated to the United States where he embarked on a long career in the U.S.A.F. including medical evacuations under fire in Vietnam.

Retiring from the air force in 1981, he long directed a clinic in San Antonio, Texas specialized in oncology, his medical specialty. In 2013, Dr. Narboni’s wife Charlotte published When I grow up, I want to be… his memoir as he recounted it to her.

Dr Narboni, an inveterate world traveler and classical music lover, is survived by his wife and by daughters Nicole and Cecile.

(By Bernard Edinger, Paris)

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